Neil Wiley

The coast redwood is an apt symbol for the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Sequoia sempervirens makes its home here in the coast ranges of Northern California. (OK, a few live in Oregon, too, but they are Californians at heart.)

Redwoods like living here, enjoying high winter precipitation, summer fog, infrequent frost, and moderate summer temperatures. So do we, except when the precipitation gets out of hand as it did this year. And even then, the greener grasses and fields of wildflowers make it worth a little wetness.

Redwoods think big. The world’s tallest trees can reach a height of over 368 feet. And they can be over thirty feet in diameter.

And redwoods endure. The oldest specimens have a lifespan of over 2200 years. They are tough. The bigger redwoods have thick bark that withstands fire. The heartwood is resistant to fungal diseases and insects. And they can be shaded by other trees for decades, then break through to the sun.

Redwoods are supportive. Mother trees host young redwoods, forming natural cathedrals. This competition among brother and sister trees is one reason that redwoods are among the fastest growing trees in the world. Parent trees even support “albino” redwoods, a genetic mutation that produces needles without chlorophyll.

Redwoods are adaptable. A redwood can sprout from dormant buds in its burl, trunk, and limbs. If a redwood’s top is destroyed, new shoots issue from buds, often growing horizontally, and then shooting upwards at a right angle. It can also send up hundreds of shoots from its base.

Unfortunately, redwoods are good lumber. According to Mark Borchert, co-author of Coast Redwood, a Natural and Cultural History, “That’s why less than 5 percent of the original old-growth redwood forest is still intact.” We are left with young spindly trees and a few isolated giants, another species dying from urban pressures and industrial greed. But these remaining trees, the young, the twisted, and the less accessible, are worth seeing.

You can still find them in mountain neighborhoods, young trees behind the Old Loma playfield, in Redwood Estates, or deep in sheltered canyons. You can even see an old giant hiding behind a private residence in Villa del Monte. I’m also looking forward to visiting the locally famous redwood “twins” on a Midpen Open Space tour of the previously closed western section of Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve.

Where to see redwoods
Henry Cowell and Big Basin offer short self-guided tours along a flat trail of less than a mile. Henry Cowell is less famous but closer. Both are perfect redwood zoos for non-hikers. To see a more secluded old growth forest, visit Portola State Park.

Amazingly enough, the Watsonville town square features three redwood relatives: our coast redwood
(Sequoia sempervirens), the sequoia (Sequoiadendron gigantean), and the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides).

One of my favorite redwood trails is the nearby Marcel’s Forest in the lower section of Nisene Marks State Park. The Old Growth Loop Trail is only a little over a mile long. It offers a lot of nature, including a stream crossing, a moss and fern-covered grotto, a “crazy forest” grove of twisted redwoods, beautiful tiger lilies and mountain iris (in May), and “The Advocate,” the largest redwood tree in Nisene Marks State Park. (Its circumference is 45 feet.) Rubbing this old redwood’s bark is touching history.


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